The Castel Sant’Angelo may not be as instantly recognizable as the Colosseum, but it won’t take long for you to embrace it as a distinctive landmark of Rome. Originally built by the emperor Hadrian to be his mausoleum, the castle rises majestically over the curve of the Tiber. The walk up is not just memorable, but magical with master sculptor Bernini’s angel-flanked bridge guiding your way toward this museum and just beyond it, the Vatican.
The castle has gone through many reincarnations, but perhaps its most famous is as a papal hiding place. Underground lies the Passetto di Borgo, connecting this former papal residence to the Vatican, making it an ideally situated escape for popes under attack. During the 1527 Sack of Rome, Pope Clement VII infamously took refuge here before his surrender.
This formidable facade has captured many a writer’s imagination, entrenching the Castel Sant’Angelo in the lore of Rome past. Most recently, Dan Brown featured the Passetto di Borgo in his book Angels and Demons. More inclined to the classics? The castle plays a tragic, but crucial role in Puccini’s Tosca.